It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s……. an autonomous fixed-wing mapping drone

This blog covers the development of an autonomous fixed-wing mapping drone, and the mapping of a vineyard in California.

The vineyard was located in a valley with the main property at the top of a hill, with the vines covering the hilly area. There was approx. 80 acres of vineyard and almond trees, with a 260 feet elevation change. To comply with the FAA 400 AGL limit for UAV’s, the mission was planned with a 130 feet AGL at the top of the hill by the property with a small designated landing area. This gave us 130 feet flying over the property, plus 390 feet at the lowest point in the property, which happened to be a dried up lake bed.

The full blog can be read here.

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3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on January 19, 2016 at 11:04pm

The full post is impressively thorough -- well clicking through and reading the whole thing. 

Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on January 20, 2016 at 7:19am

Interesting blog post.

Now all helicopters are more efficient as they are in cruise by approx. 40%. This is due to effective translational lift, as airflow moves over the rotors and generates extra lift.

Is this comment directed at helicopters or multirotors?  I assume multirotors as that's the context of the paragraph.  This isn't correct at all.  Multirotors use less power in hover. Power increases rapidly as flight speed increases, due to the mentioned brick-like aerodynamics.  There may be some speed, a few m/s, where they use less power simply due to the fact they are outside of the recirculating air.  My testing shows a typical quadcopter uses twice as much power to travel at just 15 m/s.

I did see a few comments about helicopters in there, but they seemed not serious.  Would have been interesting to see them seriously considered.  They offer all the VTOL ease of use benefits of quadcopters, while offering range similar to most small foam planes used for mapping.

Comment by Marc Dornan on January 20, 2016 at 7:51am

Rob, have you built a mapping helicopter before - as a proof of concept? Could you get a S100 on a 800 sized copter? Do you not owe the world a pixhawk powered nitro mapping heli? I would have thought maybe someone would have asked you to develop one by now.

Comment by Matthew on January 20, 2016 at 2:10pm

You conclude the article with

"wait a few months and buy the Parrot Disco, it does it all for you."

I thought the Disco was designed for FPV?

Comment by Iain Butler on January 20, 2016 at 2:28pm
The Disco is FPV but you can also program a flight path into it. Just add a NADIR camera and its a mapping drone. Question is how easy it is to program waypoints in to do a useful survey.
Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on January 20, 2016 at 3:25pm

And how good the camera is for mapping.  I see a disturbing trend where there's this assumption that "any camera will do".  Or the only consideration is how many MP it has.

Image quality matters.  It does depend on what quality of output you are looking for.  But it's important to keep this in focus (haha, see what I did there?) when discussing this topic lest people purchase something only to realize later that it doesn't really do what they need.

Rob, have you built a mapping helicopter before - as a proof of concept? Could you get a S100 on a 800 sized copter? Do you not owe the world a pixhawk powered nitro mapping heli? I would have thought maybe someone would have asked you to develop one by now.

Why yes, yes I have! :)  A Canon S100 on an 800 copter?  No way, I can get one on a 500 size helicopter, and have done just so.  This system is similar size and weight as a 650 quad, but flies twice as far.  And can tolerate higher wind condition than a quad or airplane. I am finishing up the design of an electric 700 size designed to map with anything from a Sony QX1 to an a7S, targeting flight time of an hour at 20 m/s.  When that is done I'll work on making something commercially viable in the 500/P&S size.

You wouldn't use nitro.  But gas is very attractive. Flight times of 2, 3, even 4 hours.  But these are very serious machines only to be used by organizations that are prepared to learn how to deal with them.

Comment by Marc Dornan on January 21, 2016 at 10:00am

Rob: I am showing my ignorance in not understanding the difference between gasoline nitro.

I just found another DIYD page and I guess you can do this with $400 500-sized heli, plus a small PX4-type FC and decent camera. And a whole lot of time. Some day soon. 

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